China's detention of a respected U.S. sociologist sends a chilling message to foreign researchers and investors, Human Rights Watch said today. The international monitoring organization urged that Chinese authorities reveal the charges against Li Shaomin, a business professor at the City University of Hong Kong, who was detained on February 25, 2001 en route to Shenzhen in southern China.
"This appears to be another case of a foreign academic detained in China because his research or views are contrary to state policy," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "We're asking that the charges against Professor Li be made known, and that he be immediately and unconditionally released unless there is clear evidence that he has committed a non-political offense."
Li's family told Human Rights Watch he was doing research on China's economic development and "e-commerce"; he was also involved in a dot-com business in China. Li has written extensively on doing business in China and on the impact of privatization and market reforms on the performance of foreign enterprises.
Li Shaomin has been a U.S. citizen for the past six years; he studied at Princeton University and Harvard University. While his detention is likely to be related to his own activities, Chinese authorities may also be motivated by the fact that his father, Li Honglin, is a well known advocate of political reform and former political prisoner in China.
"The chilling effect of Li's detention on international academic and business communities is all the greater, coming as it does on the heels of the detention of Gao Zhan," said Jones.
Gao, a research scholar based at American University in Washington, DC, was detained in China last month and earlier this week was publicly accused by the Chinese Foreign Ministry of spying for foreign intelligence agencies. Her husband, Xue Donghua, who was also detained without charge and later released, has strongly denied the charges and the Chinese government has offered no evidence to back up its claims. The couple's five-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, was separated from them for twenty-six days, and the U.S. embassy was not notified of the detention. Human Rights Watch said China should immediately release Gao and let her rejoin her family in the U.S., absent any evidence of wrongdoing.
"These two detentions, along with other widespread abuses of human rights, raise serious questions about China's willingness to respect basic international norms," Jones noted. In October 1998, China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which specifically bars arbitrary detention. It has yet to ratify the treaty. The detentions come as China prepares to face an attempt to censure its human rights practices at the current session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.